TGIF13 – Day Eight: Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan
Hey, even Jason needs a vacation once and awhile, right? You can only kill so many kids in the same lakeside summer camp before you just got to get out and see the sights a little. With that in mind, the makers of the eighth entry of the Friday the 13th series decided to try something a little different. But is Jason still Jason when not terrorizing Crystal Lake? Read on to find out. And, remember, SPOILERS AHEAD.
FRIDAY THE 13TH – PART VIII: JASON TAKES MANHATTAN (1989)
Written & Directed by: Rob Hedden
An underwater electrical cable is accidentally severed, once again awakening Jason from his forced slumber at the bottom of Crystal Lake (unfortunately, Tina’s father is not revived…thus disappointing anyone waiting for that rematch). After dispatching of a couple young boating lovebirds, Jason stows away on a cruise ship taking Crystal Lake High’s senior class on a trip to New York.
After eliminating most of the students on the voyage to New York, Jason eventually finds himself in the Big Apple, where he gives chase after the remaining survivors, including Rennie, a girl with a mysterious past connection to Jason (yep, that’s right…another one).
Let’s be clear: this review will NOT be a complete trashing of the eighth film. Most likely due to its abysmal box-office performance, and Paramount Picture’s resultant decision to part ways with the series, conventional wisdom has long held that Jason Takes Manhattan is the bottom of the Friday the 13th barrel. And, to be sure, there is quite a bit about this movie that can really piss you off if you’re a fan of the series (or logic)…and I’m certainly not going to shy away from mentioning those things.
But, at the same time, it’s really not as bad as it’s been made out to be. As I have revisited this film over the years, I have discovered that Part VIII is a film that has definitely benefited from the passage of time. It’s still not necessarily a good movie, nor even a particularly strong entry in the franchise. But it actually does have quite a few fun moments, and today it’s kind of tough to figure out why there has been so much hate directed its way.
Well, actually, that’s not true. I do know what the main problem is…and it has to do with that damn title. Even if you’ve never seen the flick, you’ve no doubt heard fans complain about the misleading nature of the name. The words Jason Takes Manhattan conjure up all sorts of intriguing imagery, almost none of which the movie actually delivers on. Instead, we’re given a final 20 or so minutes of Jason traipsing around back-alleys and sewers (actually Vancouver standing in for New York, and to say the effect is unconvincing would be an understatement), and just a couple very-brief scenes actually filmed in Times Square. “Taking Manhattan,” this is not.
To be fair, this wasn’t supposed to be the case. Writer/director Rob Hedden’s original screenplay did in fact set the majority of the action in the Big Apple – complete with all sorts of cool set-pieces like Jason facing down a boxer in Madison Square Garden, interrupting a Broadway show, and even diving off the Statue of Liberty. But apparently, Hedden forgot just what series he was involved with, and it didn’t take long for the budgetary restrictions of the franchise to force Hedden to massively downscale his vision. Instead of the first 20 minutes aboard a boat and then the rest of the movie in the big city, Hedden had no choice but to flop that ratio around.
And that is where I think they made a big mistake. Not in reducing the New York part of the story, mind you, but in just not getting rid of it completely. I truly believe that if they had simply kept the entire movie on the ship, and come up with a different title (even something as stupid as Jason Takes a Cruise), this would be a much more beloved entry in the series. ‘Cause here’s the thing – a lot of the stuff on the cruise ship is actually pretty kick-ass.
Let’s face it – the very idea of Jason terrorizing a cruise ship is a lot better than him loose in New York, anyway. Oh, sure, the thought of Jason in the city seems cool initially, but as evidenced by what little we get of it here, it was never going to hold up for an entire movie. Never mind that the series really couldn’t afford to create a realistic-looking New York. There are even bigger problems with the concept. Like, why does Jason, who has always tried to kill everyone he has come in contact with, suddenly walk by pedestrians without even giving them a second glance? Sure, they try to explain it away with some nonsense about how he is only out to get the last local Crystal Lake teens…but why the heck is that the case? It’s never been before. In fact, most of Jason’s victims have been people who were just visiting Crystal Lake.
Another problem with these scenes is how much they neuter the effect of Jason. It’s bad enough that he’s walking by all these folks without reacting, but it’s even worse that they are barely reacting to him! Check out the moment on the subway train for an excellent example of what I mean. The truth is, the moment you take Jason and put him in a huge crowd of people in a big city, he effectively stops being scary. And that right there should have squashed the whole New York idea from the beginning.
On the other hand, sticking Jason on a boat with a bunch of partying teens is actually a much better fit for the series. Think about it – which scenario is scarier? Having Jason chase you through the wide-open streets of New York, or being trapped on a boat with him? The cruise scenes are able to play on the whole claustrophobic, nowhere-to-run vibe that has always worked so well in the horror genre. And it’s already a big enough change from the other movies that it should have been enough to satisfy both filmmakers and fans alike. Unfortunately, Hedden and company had to take it further and include the New York finale, and ended up dropping the ball in the process.
It’s even more of a bummer because, like I said, the cruise ship stuff is actually quite well done. In fact, apart from a few minor stumbles here and there, the first two-thirds of the movie are pretty darn enjoyable. Eschewing the more serious proceedings of the last film, Hedden thankfully brings back the more self-referential, humorous attitude of Part VI – which is really the tone the series should have been going for at this point in its run. Adding to this approach is a pretty amusing cast of characters. Most of them are entertaining for how intentionally stereotypical they are (at least, I hope it was intentional)…
…but I also genuinely liked Jensen Daggett as the film’s final girl, Rennie. She might not have telekinesis or anything, but she’s still a somewhat atypical heroine for this series, and Daggett is very likable in the role.
Meanwhile, Kane Hodder is back in the role of Jason – the first and to date only actor to reprise the role. While he doesn’t imbue Jason’s movements with the same sort of smoldering rage as he did last time around, he still manages to bring quite a bit of personality to the character…not easy with this kind of role. (One quick thing about Jason in this movie, though = this film has to be the biggest perpetrator of the whole “apparent Jason teleportation” device, which sees Jason slowly saunter after characters running for their lives, only to somehow end up in front of them. It’s as goofy and unrealistic as it sounds, but most fans of the series have just accepted it by now.)
But, like I said, I can compliment the film’s early-goings all I want…it’s still all eventually undermined by a weak climax and a rather ridiculous storyline involving Rennie’s connection to Jason (both of which I’ll get into more in the “Nitpick Patrol”). It’s a shame, because I honestly believe that Jason Takes Manhattan had potential to be – and in fact was on its way to being – one of the series more enjoyable chapters. But you can’t downplay the importance of a strong final act, and this movie just doesn’t have one. Apart from a few funny gags, the movie more or less falls apart once it gets to New York.
Though, it should be said, we do get this…
Is Jason Takes Manhattan as bad as it’s often made out to be? No, not at all. But it’s also not as great as it could have been. Like Part VII, it’s an imperfect attempt to try something new with the series, that neither spectacularly succeeds nor miserably fails. It’s got its moments, and it’s got its problems – in this case the two pretty much work against each other, in order to ensure that Part VIII ends up just an OK, but altogether unremarkable, entry.
Oh, and before I forget…the mask-less Jason make-up in this one? Total garbage.
BODY COUNT: 20
Alright, so a couple of these deaths aren’t actually Jason kills. One teen is taken out by the itchy trigger-finger of another during a “let’s hunt Jason” scene, and one character is killed in a car crash. But even if you call it 18, it’s still not too bad…especially considering the MPAA finally allowed the series to bring back some of the red stuff after really clamping down on the previous movie.
If you’ve seen the film, you don’t even need to ask. In what is inarguably one of the most memorable moments in the entire series, Jason takes on Julius, the boxer, on a rooftop, and after allowing the guy to tire himself out by using the old “rope-a-dope” technique, proceeds to punch his head off. Let me repeat that. He punches the guy’s head…OFF! It’s stupid, impossible, and utterly ridiculous. It’s also freakin’ awesome.
BOOB COUNT: 3
Well, skinny-dipping is a lot tougher to accomplish when you’re on a boat that’s not exactly going to wait around for you, so this time around we are unfortunately forced to settle for just a couple quick glimpses of flesh. And, in fact, two of these boobs can only be seen for a split second in a reflection, and actually belong to a stunt-girl, not the actress playing the role. Still, boobs are boobs, so it all counts in the end.
CRAZY OLD COOT:
Apart from Martin the cemetery caretaker in Part VI, the whole “Crazy Old Coot” factor of the series had been admittedly diminishing ever since the batshit-insane Abel in Part 3. Luckily, this one gets back on course, thanks to the ship’s doom-proclaiming deck hand. I swear this guy could be Crazy Ralph’s younger brother, just doing his part to keep up the old family work.
I bet you think I’m gonna complain about the logistics of a cruise ship in Crystal Lake somehow sailing to New York, don’t you? Eh, whatever…that’s almost too obvious of a problem to even bother going after. Same goes for the fact that – for the second movie in a row – Jason is wearing a different outfit when he comes out of the water than he was when he went into it at the end of the previous entry.
No, my biggest problems here have to do with Rennie’s past-connection to Jason, and the movie’s idiotic climax. Let’s start with the whole Rennie-Jason thing. First off, I could complain about the fact that Jason was apparently still a little boy in Crystal Lake when Rennie was a little girl, and tossed into the lake by her jerky uncle. But, then again, the last movie had already effectively shot the Friday the 13th timeline all to hell, so I guess I’ll be nice and let that one slide.
I will not be as generous, however, when it comes to Rennie’s flashbacks and visions of Jason. At times, these visions seem to suggest that Jason was actually a normal little boy back when he originally drowned – thus contradicting everything we’ve ever been told about Jason’s origin. What’s worse, the visions start to oddly contradict themselves, sometimes depicting young-Jason as a average looking kid, and other times staying true to the mongoloid appearance we are familiar with. So which is it? And why the different versions? And why the hell is Rennie even having these visions in the first place? Are we supposed to assume that her childhood encounter with him somehow gave Rennie a sort of mental “Jason alarm?” How exactly does that work?
Now, about that ending…and, actually, before I get to that, I need to first question this movie’s stereotypical representation of New York. Not only can you barely step foot into the city without instantly getting mugged, but did you also know that there is apparently toxic waste just lying all over the place there? That’s right…heck, the sewers even flood with toxic waste every night!! Wow, that seems awfully dangerous…you’d think the city would do something about that.
If they had, though, we wouldn’t get this doozy of a climax. I’m just gonna go ahead and recap this step-by-step.
Jason, his face already melted by toxic waste, is trying to attack Rennie in the sewer, but he suddenly turns and sees even more toxic waste flooding the tunnels behind him. In response, he starts to uncontrollably vomit water. The wave of toxic waste engulfs Jason, and we cut to a flashback of young Jason drowning, set against a backdrop of flames. Back in the present, lightning strikes the Statue of Liberty! Umm, OK. And, finally, the toxic waste that had surrounded him slowly dissipates, revealing that Jason has apparently turned into a small (non-mongoloid) boy.
I’ve seen and heard Hedden try to explain this away as being symbolic of Jason’s “curse” finally being lifted, and his soul going free and allowing him to revert back to the boy he was before (which doesn’t help much, considering he’s still dead in a sewer). But whatever…this is just total nonsense. I would say it’s the most embarrassing moment in the series, but I don’t know…the next film would sure give it a run for its money.
FINAL SCORE: 2.5 out of 4 Hockey Masks
Posted on November 11, 2014, in Franchise Post-Mortems, Friday the 13th, Reviews and tagged Camp Crystal Lake, Cruise Ships, Decapitating Punches, Friday the 13th, Horror Movies, Jason Voorhees, New York City, Slashers. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.